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One WTC, Where the View is Never Boring

June 12, 2013

John Schaffner, Local 14-14B crane operator at One WTC
John Schaffner, One WTC crane operator

By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY—John Schaffner has to contend with some headaches getting to work—a 61 mile drive from the quaint town of Cornwall, New York to Journal Square where he then hops on a PATH train to his office at the top of One World Trade Center. Watch Video

Mr. Schaffner’s office for the past eight months is the cab of a 50-ton internal climbing crane system which he looks forward climbing into because he reorients himself in the solitude of the cab after sitting in traffic and competing for a seat on the PATH train.

“Sometimes I feel like I left New York. That’s probably one of the best things I like running the towers is you don’t have all the noise and commotion. When I’m in the cab it’s quiet and peaceful. The only person I’m talking to is the signalmen on the deck or on the ground. That’s one of my favorite things about being up there,” said Schaffner.

Mr. Schaffner has been a crane operator for over 20 years with Local 14-14B of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Prior to working at One WTC, Schaffner worked at the Croton Water Filtration Plant in the Bronx, one of the city’s largest public works projects in decades.

He was one of the crane operators who helped to hoist the spire last month, raising the building to its full height of 1,776 feet and making it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

It was a clear day when this reporter had the opportunity to speak with Schaffner on the roof of One WTC, a piece of real estate under construction that most people have or will not tread.

Back in January, when the temperature was 10 degrees Fahrenheit, this reporter and colleague, Joe Maniscalco, talked with crane operators up on the 95th floor hoisting rebar and lowering a 230-foot boom, disconnected from its moorings by ironworkers, 1,100 feet to the ground below.

On Wednesday, June 5 we were accompanied by Master Mechanic Kenny Klemens in an elevator that took only 6 minutes to climb over 1,000 feet to the roof. The freight elevator stopped on the 101st floor, and when the vertical gates opened, an unobstructed view of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, with the mighty Atlantic Ocean due south, suddenly appeared.

We were eager to climb the four flights of stairs to see the panoramic views from up on top, but there was a lot of buzz on the 101st floor. As we navigated the floor littered with mobile tool boxes, electric carts, extension cords, steel drums and steel beams, we saw faceless steamfitters behind welding helmets blow-torching pipes in cramped positions.

When we got to the roof, Schaffner was in the middle of lowering one of the last two booms suspended above the building to the street. He climbed down from the solitude of the crane’s cab and took some time from his lunch break to talk.

The sky was gleaming blue, the sun’s rays were hot and the very tip of the spire on the Empire State Building was visible behind Schaffner’s left shoulder. Of late, however, New York has been pounded by drenching rains and Schaffner is spending more time in conditions that resemble a whiteout.

“Sometimes the clouds suddenly appear; I can see the building underneath me, but I can’t see anything else. So I have talk to the signalman on the street to find out what they see, and then they’ll give me the OK, or not, to boom out to where my street marker is until they see the ball coming through the clouds and help me direct the boom,” said Schaffner.

When asked if he feels he’s in a unique position being perched atop One WTC to know or feel how the victims of the commandeered planes might have felt on September 11, 2001, Schaffner said he’s always reminded of that tragic day whether he’s in the air or on the ground.

“I don’t think that really. We all remember that all the time. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the clouds, it’s a clear day or a rainy day, it doesn’t matter, you’ll just never forget that,” said Schaffner.

Messrs. Klemens and Schaffner each talked about how they’ve been honored to rebuild the site where the North and South Towers once stood. They’re excited that One WTC is almost complete but also melancholy because they’ve invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears over the past six years.

“We have a saying here, ‘It’s the best job we never wanted,’” said Klemens. 

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